The Murder Capital: "We’re pretty big theory nerds – that thing of people thinking it’s uncool to know music theory is dying now. It’s just so stupid!"

The Murder Capital
Cathal Roper [left] and Damian Tuit

When The Murder Capital supported Idles in 2019, Idles vocalist Joe Talbot told the audience that one day his band would be opening for The Murder Capital. The Dublin band’s debut album When I Have Fears charted in the UK top 20 and hit number two in Ireland, leading to a sold-out headline tour of both countries. 

Their ascent was paused by a certain disease outbreak that we’re all bored of talking about, but their new effort Gigi’s Recovery sees the post-punks regaining lost momentum, inspired by seeing their best mates and fellow Dubliners Fontaines D.C. top the UK and Irish charts in 2022.

The Murder Capital’s guitarists Cathal Roper and Damien Tuit are relaxed but clearly excited about returning after two years’ enforced absence. Referring to each other by their nicknames Pump and Irv (we didn’t ask), Cathal and Damien talk about the huge explorations they took en route to creating Gigi’s Recovery.

The adventures began when they worked on their debut album with Flood, the legendary producer of U2, The Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey and others.

“Something we found really exciting when we got into studio with Flood as well that we actually had loads of time to experiment,” Cathal says. “That thing of just searching for something. He’s very good at keeping you encouraged. He wasn’t great for telling you to stop but he was good for telling you to keep going!” Damien laughs in agreement: “He gave us a lot of bad habits!” 

Going into lockdown the band were able to take this experimentation to extremes. “We got really into ambient music and textural stuff, artists that just have a mood that just carries the entire piece,” Cathal recalls. “We wanted to explore that world.”

It was a fun time, if not always a focused one, adds Damien. “Writing for this album, there was a lot of times me and Pump were writing stuff that just had absolutely no place in the room and was never going to be a finished song!” 

Cathal continues: “It’s great delving into that world, and it was really beneficial for us and fun. It’s also a hindrance to going on with things when you have no end in sight. Like, ‘What’s the rush?’” 

Damien admits: “There were certain rhythmless rabbit holes we went down.”

We’re relieved to say that the resulting album is not the sprawling indulgent mass you might fear. It’s a tight collection of meaningful and melodic songs, a result helped considerably by the guidance of another top producer, John Congleton. 

“He’s like the opposite of Flood in a sense,” Cathal muses. “He’d be like, ‘You need to make a decision now.’ He’d do a level of ‘go explore’ and then in the middle of it he’s like, ‘What do you think? Let’s just make a decision and go with it. If that’s serving the song, then accept it and enjoy what it’s doing.’”

Congleton’s sprawling production CV spans multiple genres and includes St. Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers and veteran experimental noise merchants Swans. With his guidance, The Murder Capital shaped their aimless ambient beginnings into coherent statements. 

“A lot of those songs had different iterations over the two years,” Cathal explains. “If we were forced to record when we had the songs earlier on, it would have been a completely different feel. We kept going further, wanting that dense and textured feel but still trying to keep the immediacy. That was a difficult line to toe, but we got that with John. He definitely helped us get out of the songs what we were hearing.”

Like all good gearheads, Cathal and Damien acquired new pedals for the writing phase. “We all we all moved home with our parents and finally had a bit of spare money,” laughs Damien, remembering the beginning of lockdown. “I got a [Hologram Electronics] Microcosm, a [Chase Bliss] Dark World reverb pedal and a sampler.” 

Although most bands in this genre tote giant analogue pedalboards, Damien’s best purchase was digital. “Just before the pandemic I got the Line 6 HX Stomp, and I ended up making pretty detailed patches for a lot of the songs,” he says.

“Every time I would sit down to write I’d pull up a new effect I’d never used before. There’s crazy effects on that, and then when you mix them together, and constantly being able to move the chain around, whether it’s having a reverb at the start or whatever – I just kept finding new stuff. The ability to map the expression pedal to any parameter was really exciting. It was just a constant source of inspiration.”

The hard thing about guitar sometimes is that it always looks the same. It’s nice when you can use effects, especially effects like a ring modulator or something where you’re just going off feel

Damien Truit

Both guitarists find that new gear can help to break a rut. “The hard thing about guitar sometimes is that it always looks the same,” Damien says.

“It’s nice when you can use effects, especially effects like a ring modulator or something where you’re just going off feel. I find that exciting. With every piece of gear you buy there’s a period at the start where it does get in the way while you’re trying to get used to it. Once you get past that then you get ideas that you wouldn’t have gotten, so there’s a balance. You can’t rely on buying new gear all the time to write a good song!”

Cathal began writing the album by buying a synth, but pedal purchases brought him back into a guitar headspace. “The really big ones for me on this album was the Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water and the Alexander Pedals Syntax Error. The Fairfield is a weird chorus with a random pitch modulation in it. It was really inspiring. It might be only used on two tracks of the album now but the whole way through it I loved playing with pitch that way.”

The glitchy video game sounds of the Syntax Error helped to complete the album. “I’ve only touched the surface of that pedal,” he says. “I’m not far into it enough. It just came at the end. I started selling loads of pedals. At the end of the first record I bought a massive pedalboard to fit everything on, and it just looks stupid now because there’s an empty space around each one!”

Damien also discovered some innovative delay effects. “There’s a harmony delay that I used a lot but I kind of don’t really want to give that away! I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used anywhere and there’s so much potential in it. I kind of I want to milk it more before I tell people about it. On the song A Thousand Lives, that’s the harmony delay. I’m playing one third of those notes and it’s just doing all the heavy lifting.” 

Damien used a Les Paul and a Fender Jazzmaster into his Hot Rod DeVille. “John didn’t really encourage us to mess around with other amps. He’s just like, ‘This is what you’ve been using. You can just dial in the sound and focus on other things,’ which I actually really appreciated.” 

Cathal laid down his tracks with a Fender Elite Stratocaster and a Gibson ES-345 into a Vox AC30. His dirt came from a Fuzz Face and the Keeley D&M Drive, whose dynamic range he uses for the soaring crescendo that finishes third single Ethel

As he says: “There’s so many songs on the record where you can sit in a chord progression and just play with the dynamic of the band, building it over time and finding where is the lifts and where is the time to sit in. For that I’m riding the volume knob of the Strat. I have the D&M Drive on all the time. If you pare it back a little bit on the volume knob it sounds clean.” 

Damien played the bell effects that start and finish the song. “I used a frequency shifter which is another effect on the Stomp,” he says. “It’s got some spring reverb at the end to make it sound metallic. John wanted us to do it like a Talk Talk song. We were like, ‘No no no, this needs to be a single!’”

Ethel is a surprising choice of single because the riff has some unsettling note choices. “I just started playing the root note and thirds and just coming up with the melody,” Cathal says. “It’s a mixture of where do I want the melody going what I want the bass to be. John hated it! He was like, ‘It’s really out there.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think it is,’ but I guess the reaction is that it is! 

“It’s funny, someone said to me it’s really dissonant, but the turnaround chord at the start is the only thing that’s not in C major. It also plays with the F minor – that’s the minor iv chord,” he explains referring to a much-loved Beatles chord trick. 

Time was when indie bands pretended for cool points that they’d never had music lessons, but Cathal and Damien are happy to talk music theory. “Half of us are pretty big theory nerds!” Damien smiles. “We’re were always aware of what mode the song’s in or whatever.” Cathal adds: “We love jazz, too.”

Damien thinks new bands are less anti-intellectual. “I feel that thing is sort of dying now, people thinking it’s uncool to know music theory. At least, I’d like to think it’s dying. It’s just so stupid! The thing it’s most helpful for is just communicating, just getting on the same page really quickly.” Cathal agrees: “It’s cool if people do it by ear, but it’s when there’s a kind of shun put on knowledge it just seems silly.”

Although they know their quavers from their Doritos, it’s clear the band aren’t getting their ideas out of books, as Cathal explains about their rhythmic adventures. “We used loads of different odd times throughout the record, just playing around. It’s not great when you think about it too much. It’s just whether the song needs it or what the feel of the track is.”

Their guitar parts complement each other beautifully, and Cathal points to album track We Had To Disappear as a great example of their guitar teamwork. It starts with his long, sustaining chords, and builds when Damien joins, playing faster, higher chord shapes that harmonise with Cathal’s. 

“When that came together,” Cathal says, “with the two of us doing those chords, I feel that’s what we’re fucking good at, this melding of texture just coming at you. Switching from the chords to the melodies on top. At one point, we both switch to a melody and counter melody, and I go back to the chords. If we can help each other keep expanding on these ideas then we’re usually happy at the end.”

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Jenna Scaramanga

Jenna writes for Total Guitar and Guitar World, and is the former classic rock columnist for Guitar Techniques. She studied with Guthrie Govan at BIMM, and has taught guitar for 15 years. She's toured in 10 countries and played on a Top 10 album (in Sweden).